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Thursday, March 23, 2006

everything you ever wanted to know about tile but were too afraid to ask

We planned to go to Home Depot last night and buy all of our supplies for this weekends tub-tiling project. As it turned out, though, Don’s idea of preparedness for such a shopping expedition was—well, unprepared. Fortunately for everybody, I hold a degree from a research university. And it ain’t for nothing! Let’s talk tile.

Lowe’s has an
article on the tile tools we’ll need to buy, including nippers and the ubiquitous notched trowel. And here’s the reason for a notched trowel, incidentally: You spread the adhesive over the wall, then run the notches through it to create a little Zen garden type of look. What happens is that the tile gets put onto the adhesive, and the weight of it smooshes the Zen garden down. The little runnels of adhesive then partially collapse from the pressure, and they in turn squeeze all of the air out by way of those convenient little valleys you made with your notched trowel, forming a solid bed of adhesive. This makes sure that no air bubbles are lurking under your tiles, waiting with evil oxygenated glee to break the adhesive seal holding your tile to the wall, or to cause cracking or other problems related to temperature changing. So that’s why you need the notches, if you were wondering.

When you’re tiling a plain old wall, you can feel free to tile over drywall or plaster. When you’re in a bathroom, though, you have to use cement-fiber board as the surface to which you’re going to attach your tiles (Lowe’s very snootily calls it an ‘underlayment’). This stuff is cement and fiberglass mesh, all smooshed together into a very heavy sheet that is either half an inch or a quarter of an inch thick.

The ever-helpful Lowe’s (I feel so disloyal!) has a really thorough article
here about exactly how one goes about installing tile on a wall. There’s another good one here from one of the grout and adhesive manufacturers.

For this project, we’re using simple ceramic tile. When we do our own bathroom, we’ll explore the options a little further (I’m partial to travertine), but Mr. and Mrs. V just want to sell their townhouse. So let’s talk a little bit about choosing tile. Color and style are, of course, totally up to you. If you’re trying to sell a house, though, your byword should be “neutral.” But when it comes to actually choosing the substance of the tile, you need to get the right kind for the right part of your house. All tile feels hard, but some types of tile are actually harder than others. Tile is rated by the
Porcelain Enamel Institute in a series of standardized tests. The tests evaluate a tile's relative hardness according to the Mohs scale, which was actually developed to test the hardness of minerals by seeing how hard it is for something harder to scratch something softer (genius, I know). Diamond, incidentally, is rated a 1500 on the Mohs scale, while fingernail is rated a 2. If you’re curious. Anyway, the PEI tests also rate the tile’s ability to stand up to wear and the percentage of water absorbed.

The Porcelain Enamel Institute hardness ratings are:
-Group I - Light Traffic: residential bathroom floors where bare or stocking feet are the norm.
-Group II - Medium Traffic: home interiors where little abrasion occurs. Don't use in kitchens or entries.
-Group III - Medium-Heavy Traffic: any home interior.
-Group IV - Heavy Traffic: homes or light to medium commercial areas.
-Group V- Extra Heavy Traffic: use it anywhere.

Finally, about adhesives and grouts: If you’re tiling an interior room (provided it’s not, like, a sauna or something), thin-set mortar is fine (for saunas and exterior applications, use a latex modified thin-set mortar). You can also use a Type I Mastic, which has a longer drying time than a
portland cement-based thin-set (it’ll stay goopier longer, which is why professionals like to use it for big jobs; it won’t dry out in their buckets). Pictures of both are here. If your grout lines are an eighth of an inch or smaller, you can use unsanded grout. If they’re larger, use sanded grout. Your grout lines, of course, are going to be determined by what size of spacers you choose to separate your tiles with when you're laying them. When you’re grouting, use a rubber float to push the grout into the lines between the tile. It’ll ensure an even grout layer without messing up the tile you’ve just sweated into place.

Hopefully my superior research skills have given you—and us—an edge in the wonderful world of tile. If you have any questions about tile that I didn't cover, please leave a comment. I'll post everyone's questions and my answers to them in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

in the days of tile past

It's been a while since I tiled. More specifically, it's been at least ten years, since the last time I was even near mortar and grout was when my parents were building their dream house and saving money -- and hassle -- by doing all of the tile work themselves. My mother's kitchen countertops are custom designed -- by her -- and custom laid -- by us. They're beautiful. Beautiful, and a pain in the ass. Do yourself a favor, folks-- don't do the tile countertop thing. If you feel you must, take a trip out to Spokane and clean my mom's countertops first. Then go ahead and get a solid surface countertop. Because after you clean hundreds of tiny grout lines and still can't get rid of the stains, you'll think Corian was sent from the heavens.

Point is, though, it's been a long time since I picked up the trusty tile nippers. Good thing Scripps invented the DIY Network! Here's an article from them on how to do exactly what we're doing this weekend: take down a tub surround and put up tile.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

a brief diversion into the world of wallpaper

Let's put on our learning hats and talk about wallpaper. First off, let me make this clear: I hate it. I think wallpaper is quite possibly a tool of the devil. My main interest in it is, in fact, how to get it off. But one must know one's enemy. Wallpaper was pretty popular for a long time. In some areas, it still is. If you're interested in the history of interior design and junk, Wikipedia's got a brief but informative overview of wallpaper's formative years. What they don't talk about is the fact that there are several different kinds of wallpaper. The ones you'll see most commonly are the surface-printed and vinyl coated kind and the actual vinyl kind.

Surface printed and vinyl coated are by far the most common. They're what you think of when you think wallpaper, the alarmingly sticky sheets that are a bitch to put up straight, the kind that people come to Home Depot with haunted faces desperately seeking a remedy for-- "Can I paint over it? There's got to be a way!" The kind that is, quite simply, the devil to take down. Problem is, you can't paint over it. Not in the long term. Sorry, Home Depot people. I always felt bad, standing behind the paint counter and breaking this news to hopeful yuppies. It doesn't work. Oh, it'll be okay for a little while. Longer if you get an oil-based primer and put that on first. But it'll peel. Eventually. And then you'll have to take it down for sure, only by then you'll have put all of your nice dining room furniture in there already and it'll be even more of a hassle and you'll curse out your husband for taking the easy way out when you could have just taken it down when you bought the house, eating pizza off of milk crates in the first flush of happy homeownership.

See, latex paint is water-based. That's good. You want it to be water-based, because it doesn't have toxic fumes, and if little Muffy accidentally gets a little on her lip it's okay, you won't have to rush her to poison control. Oil-based paint is bad. It's been mostly phased out. It's actually illegal for them to sell you oil-based paint unless you're planning to paint on metal, which needs it. Don't ask the paint counter people specifically for oil-based paint because you heard it works better. It doesn't. It just makes you ill. Anyway. The point is, however, that you can get oil-based primer still, and if you are so desperate to buy the matching dining room set, that's what you need to get in order to paint over the wallpaper, because the water in latex paint will interact with the glue in the wallpaper adhesive and make it start to peel. And we've been over that situation. Primer's purpose is to act as a sealant-- to make whatever's going on in your funky walls stay inside the walls and not seep over into the radiant new paint color you've chosen. Wallpaper is decidedly funky, and the adhesive they use for it is funkier still. Seal it up, baby. (In any other circumstance, however, use a latex based primer. Unless you've got bloodstains on your walls, in which case you need a lacquer based primer. I'm a font of useful information.)

But seriously. Don't paint over it. Take it down. It's labor intensive, yeah. It's not fun. But you've got to do it. Here's what you do. Get what they call a 'Tiger'. It's a little wheel thingy with a bazillion little teeth, and you wheel it over your wall in gigantic circles, making a sort of freeform art piece whose substance is fleeting just like our consumerist society blah blah blah. What does that do? Makes millions of tiny little holes in your wallpaper. Then you spray on a solution. You can either buy one of those big blue bottles of wallpaper remover solution, or you can get yourself a big blue bucket (I've got one, you can borrow it) and mix in one part vinegar to four parts water and stick it in a spray bottle (about a dollar, in the garden section). The solution, whichever one you're using, will seep into your freeform art piece-- I mean, your wallpaper-- by dint of those tiny holes. It'll loosen the adhesive. Here's the important bit: only spray it in about two-foot by two-foot sections. You don't want it to dry again, because then you've gotten the glue all excited, and it'll tighten up far more than it was when you started and be really hard to get off. So just do it in sections. Have patience. Invite your mother-in-law over, start her on the other side of the wall. You'll meet in the middle.

So once you've given the solution a couple of minutes to soak in, get in there with your putty knife. That's that wide, thin semicircle of metal with a handle on the rounded end. Looks kind of like a weird ice scraper. Don't worry about buying several-- they're cheap, and you can use them for like a billion things around the house. It's cool. Use it to scrape off the sodden, somewhat slimy wallpaper. It'll come right off.

Now spray, and repeat. Have a race with your mother-in-law (she'll win-- she's done this before-- but don't worry about it).

The exception to this treatise is if you've got vinyl wallpaper (not vinyl coated, but actually vinyl). This stuff comes off like a treat. Find a seam. Get your fingernail under there (or your ever-present putty knife). Pull. It'll peel off like your wall spent too much time sipping margaritas on the beach in Cancun and got the sunburn of a lifetime. That's just the top layer, though. Underneath it you'll find what looks like a layer of paper. That's the adhesive. When they put it on, they actually roll out this paper adhesive, stick that on the wall like double-sided tape, and slap the textured vinyl on top of it. The paper's easy, though. Get a big sponge (I like the kind you use for washing your car), get it wet-- not damp, wet-- and sponge down that wall. Soak the paper. You want to really wet it-- let it drip. Give it about thirty seconds, then start peeling. You might need the putty knife to clean up a few flakes, but most of it will come right off.

And please, for the love of God, don't put it back up. Just paint. With latex paint. That's the thing-- any look you think you're getting by putting up wallpaper can be gotten with paint. It's easy. It's called faux finishing, and it's actually kind of fun. There's a lot you can do with paint these days. And when you change your mind (don't kid yourself, you will-- I do, all the time), it's easy to change.

Just say no to wallpaper.

let's talk about toilets

Did you know that when you type "anatomy of a toilet" into Google you get a site called Toiletology? No, I'm serious. They have all sorts of helpful diagrams. Including this one.

On Saturday, we got to learn what this chart is all about. See, when you remodel a bathroom (hint: don't), and it's been wallpapered, part of the whole taking-down-the-wallpaper thing involves taking down the wallpaper behind the toilet. And as we discovered a couple of weeks ago, that's pretty hard to do. Turns out you have to take the toilet apart so you can move the tank out of your way. Which is what we did on Saturday. Taking out the pump assembly is simple. You just lift it out, basically. But if you look at the diagram which Toiletology has so helpfully provided to us, you'll see, at the very bottom, two screws. Those are what holds the tank onto the bowl. They're actually bolts, about three inches long, and their heads are surrounded by a rubber seal. Sensible, of course, since they're going to exist permanently surrounded by water, and water and holes generally don't do so well together-- and holes are what bolts go into.

This is all relatively straightforward. The problem lies below those bolts. They're held on by a nut and a washer. Thing is, to unscrew the nut, you've got to somehow get your wrench down below and behind the tank, into a tiny dip, and hang onto the nut while trying desperately not to crack the tank, which is of course made of porcelain. In a townhouse bathroom, it's pretty hard to do. Compounding the problem was the fact that the last person to put the toilet together-- possibly Little V, when he wallpapered-- didn't do it quite right. The seal around the left screw leaked. And rusted the nut. Oh yes.

The result was that I spent a good half an hour lying impossibly contorted on the floor with my head under a stranger's toilet and my shoulder bent at a very strange and painful angle while I held grimly on to a vice grip pliers gripping the rusted nut and listened to Don cursing as he tried to avoid kicking me in the face while still getting a good angle for enough leverage to turn the bolt against the pressure I was applying.

Then, once we got the wallpaper off, I did it again. So we could put the toilet back together, sans leakage. I'll get to do it twice more, when we put the beadboard up in there. I can hardly wait.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

for the googlers

To the people who got to my blog by googling things like 'rent dumpster baltimore' and 'pick up used fixtures baltimore md': I'm sorry. I don't have anything to do with either of those services. But if you do rent a dumpster, let me know how much it costs-- cause I'm going to be doing it soon, too. And if you want used fixtures-- well, I can't really help you there.

If only people found me by googling more exciting things, like 'hot sex in a dumpster' or something.

Then again, dumpster sex probably isn't much fun. I wouldn't know. We still haven't rented a dumpster.

Monday, March 13, 2006

remodeling rehearsal

I may or may not have mentioned that we are doing some remodeling work for some people we know, which is one of the many reasons absolutely nothing is going on with our own house. Anyway, these people-- we'll call them Mr. and Mrs. V-- are the parents of one of Don's fraternity brothers-- we'll call him Little V, just because it will annoy him if he hears about it-- and they are very nice. They are hoping to sell their townhome, and it needs some work done before it's marketable. Enter us. Lest you think we are all charitable and stuff, be assured that we're being paid-- just not as much as Bob the Real Contractor might charge.

Anyway. So Sunday we went over there and took the wallpaper in the bathroom down. It was (I think) either latex or vinyl wallpaper-- whatever the kind is that isn't the papery kind, that's what it was. I don't care if you have no idea what I'm talking about, the point is that we didn't have to use one of those wheely-things to score it and stuff, and it wasn't too hard to take off. It came peeling off the wall in great big swathes, leaving behind adhesive, which we wet with a sponge and then peeled off in equally large swathes. Don said it was fun. I said it was like peeling sunburnt skin, but, you know, off of a very large person. Bathroom-wall sized, in fact.

We finished taking the wallpaper down, except for the bit behind the toilet (we'll get that next weekend when we pull the toilet away from the wall), and then Don took a crowbar to the baseboards. They came off without any untoward incidents, and we left the bathroom as clean as when we'd come in-- just barer. On the weekend after next, we're going to tear out the tub liner and tile the tub. That should make for an exciting weekend.

It's kind of like practicing for doing our house, but getting paid.

Friday, March 10, 2006

dinner, internet style

"So you searched online for something to make for dinner?"

"Yeah, I searched for 'quick and easy', and after I scrolled past all of the porn, I found some good recipes."

Later, we went to look online for pizza places that deliver here-- I sat down, brought up Google, and glanced over at his screen. He'd started up World of Warcraft.

"That's not pizza."

"Sure it is."

"What, like dwarven pizza?"

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

adventures in commuting

This morning my commute was significantly longer than usual. This is because, just before we reached the safety of the platform at Union Station, the MARC train I rode from Halethorpe to DC managed to somehow plow up a section of the track. Yes. They told us that somehow the clearance on the front end wasn't high enough, and the front of the train somehow caught the lip of one of the sections of interlocking (which is this weird rubber/concrete stuff they put across sections of the track so you don't have to leap over the steel girders to cross it but can in fact drive a little golf cart across it if you are an Amtrak/MARC/VRE employee) and peeled it up out of the ground. I saw it. It was, in fact, no longer in the ground. And there was a lot of rubble, too.

So they politely requested that we all exit the train through the first car, one by one. There are six bi-level rail cars on an average MARC train, each seating at least a hundred people-- usually more, because they stand in the aisles when the seats are full like good red-blooded American commuters. So imagine, if you will, six hundred people being requested to exit the train through one door. Which fits one person at a time. And has four steep stairs and only one handrail, and is fairly difficult for the elderly/disabled/nonathletic/average person to navigate on a good day, which is why they make train platforms.

I was in the second car. I have no idea how long it took for the people at the back of the train to get off, but it took me a good half an hour. Then I had to walk the rest of the way to Union Station. That was cool.

I wish I'd had my camera with me to take a picture of the track wreckage. It was fairly dramatic. Come to think of it, though, I doubt they would have let me take one. There were an awful lot of track people around looking rather stern.

How much more exciting can a morning commute get?

Friday, March 03, 2006

overheard at the library

"So it's a camera but you don't have to use any film? That's amazing!"

It was one of the librarians, too.

I realize that I haven't posted anything house-related in, like, ages. Sorry. I'll have something (maybe even with pictures!) to entertain you this weekend, I am sure. If I stop playing EQ2 long enough to dig the camera out from under the piles of junk on my desk.

In other news, at least our money is doing something-- we put the profit from the sale of the townhouse into a high-interest-bearing savings account with ING and it's made us $140 in the last month. That's pretty cool.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

i'm marrying him for his money, not his grasp of metaphor

Don and I had the following conversation through email today while we were at work, proving YET AGAIN that neither classic metaphor nor, in fact, explaining things comprehensibly are his true forte:

Jamaila Cohen-Michaelson to Donald (3:01 PM)
why don't you go see if we can afford movable type to keep yourself busy...

Donald J. Brinkley to me (3:03 PM)
cause i don't feel like it...

i'm busy doing sudukos...

Jamaila Cohen-Michaelson to Donald (3:04 PM)
it's spelled sudOkU

Donald J. Brinkley to me (3:05 PM)
meh...it's all the same tomato tomato...

Jamaila Cohen-Michaelson to Donald (3:07 PM)
dude. when you say that you are supposed to spell the two tomatoes DIFFERENTLY. you can't say 'oh, you say tomato, i say tomato', it's tomato and tomatoe.

Donald J. Brinkley to me (3:08 PM)
meh it's the same...

Jamaila Cohen-Michaelson to Donald (3:09 PM)
ARGH no it isn't! that's the WHOLE POINT of the STUPID SAYING!

Donald J. Brinkley to me (3:10 PM)
no that's like saying...chair and door...are different...

who are you people?

I like to pay attention to who is reading my blog, so I have one of those sitemeter thingies. It tells me that there are approximately 20 people a day viewing some page or another from this blog, probably at least half of whom are my mother. But still. That's more than I expected! And it has this nifty feature that tells you where people are geographically that are accessing your site, and that baffles me. I mean, who is reading this blog from Syosset, New York? And Chicago? And Blackpool in the UK? And Raleigh?

The repetitive 'Spokane, WA' ones are pretty easy to decipher (ha! See, Mom, I'm spying on you spying on me!), as are the mysterious governmental service providers (that would be Don, reading my blog when he is supposed to be FIXING the mysterious governmental service providers). But who is reading me from Ijamsville, MD? For that matter, where IS Ijamsville, MD?

Go ahead, leave a comment. Explain your geographic bad selves.

No, Mom, you don't have to. I know you're there.